As a deacon preparing for ordination to the priesthood this October, I read with interest the subject of women’s ordination throughout the world. Whenever you read an argument against the ordination of women, 1 Timothy 2:8-12 is the Scripture you will hear quoted:
I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works. Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.
First and Second Timothy were written to an elder at the church in Ephesus, named Timothy. This troubled city was built around several cults to female deities, mainly Artemis and the Egyptian goddess Diana. Women were the religious leaders in the city and their identification with the goddesses supported their religious authority. Women were thought to be the mentors between the goddesses and the men of their city.
In the Book of Acts we read how the Ephesian people reacted by rioting in response to Paul’s preaching against Artemis. Heresies were taking over the church in Ephesus, causing chaos, because it was being taught by women who were immersed in these cults. Timothy turned to Paul for advice; Paul, knowing that these women were totally unfit to teach and lead in the church, replied to Timothy these two letters.
Those who consider this to be a commandment to keep women from becoming priests, pastors and ministers are leaving out the most important word: “I”
Paul wrote to Timothy, “I do not permit…” By not permitting these women spreading false ideas, Paul believed Timothy would be able to create a church where he could spend the Christian doctrine and beliefs. These verses were time and location specific, not trying to limit all women for all times. Paul did not say, “You can never permit” or “God forbids” when talking about women in the church.
Many consider Paul’s mention of Adam and Eve to be further proof of women for all time being submissive in the church. But Eve was made from Adam’s rib to stand by his side. Submission only came about after the Fall, and even then only to her husband. Many women had authority over men, such as Deborah, who judged both men and women.
Jesus himself set the example. Mary Magdalene was elevated to the position of a disciple. Women were the last at the cross and the first at the empty tomb. The Archbishop of my church is a woman, as are two of our bishops, And let’s not forget that Paul himself had nothing but praise for Phoebe, Lydia and Dorcas.
Incidentally, the curious comment of women being saved though childbearing was in response to the belief that Artemis was the goddess who kept women safe through childbirth.